For the first time in a number of years, the Detroit Tigers are no longer the most important team in their own organization. Sure, we want to see the big league club succeed, but with the franchise now entrenched in its first rebuild in over a decade, MLB wins aren’t as important as minor league development. The Tigers have bolstered their farm system depth through the draft and trades over the past couple seasons, and now boast one of the better collections of minor league talent in baseball. They’re not a top system just yet — probably not quite top 10 at this point — but there is talent to be found here.
Now that we’re halfway through the season, it’s time to take a look at the farm system as a whole. We put together our top 30 Tigers prospects list at the start of the season, and it’s time to re-evaluate how they (and we) did.
26. Kingston Liniak
Stats: 69 PA, .254/.319/.302, 3 2B, 3 SB in the Gulf Coast League
Previous rank: N/A
Truly, there is not enough information out there to justify giving Liniak a place on this list any higher than the last few spots. If his well over-slot fourth round bonus is any indication, the Tigers obviously saw something in him that they liked quite a lot. He is a skinny kid who runs like a horse and plays well in the field. He makes enough contact to play well, but it comes with little power for now. While he may add to the thump in his bat as he fills out, he also runs the risk of losing his edge on the bases. In the end, the very raw Liniak presents a frustrating case of “hurry up and wait.”
27. SS Alvaro Gonzalez
Stats: 132 PA, .262/.394/.421, 6 3B, 5 SB in the Dominican Summer League
Previous rank: N/A
Not too long after Al Avila took over as Detroit’s general manager, the team vowed to be a bigger player in the international market. Gonzalez, a young Venezuelan shortstop, was the first big-ticket item, signing a contract for a cool $1 million. Gonzalez’s tools grade out as roughly average across the board, with a tilt to the defensive side of the spectrum. He has performed admirably in his professional debut, and has especially impressed with his willingness to take walks so far. It will be a veritable eternity before he makes any kind of impact at the higher levels, but he’s an interesting add at a position of need.
28. RHP Bryan Garcia
Stats: recovering from Tommy John surgery
Previous rank: 23
Garcia is a statistical performer who rocketed through the minor leagues before we were reminded of his mortality, as he underwent Tommy John surgery this spring. Despite the procedure, FanGraphs had nothing but great things to say about the young relief arm, positing that he had three pitches that project as plus. Undergoing Tommy John would normally remove a reliever from consideration on our list (see: Foley, Jason) but Garcia’s meteoric rise and deep arsenal earned him a place at the end of the list. His reintroduction to competitive action may be a bit rocky, but keep an eye on his progression as a pitcher rather than a thrower.
29. RHP Elvin Rodriguez
Stats: 73.1 IP, 4.17 ERA, 75 SO, 23 BB for Single-A West Michigan
Previous rank: N/A
The most striking thing about Rodriguez is how skinny he is; our own Brandon Day called him a “reed.” Although Rodriguez came to Detroit a secondary piece in last summer’s Justin Upton trade, he may well become the real gem of the deal. Rodriguez has a trio of pitches that features a curve and changeup. All three pitches and his command project to be above-average in time. They aren’t quite there yet, though, and when he loses his command, he gets pummeled. His fastball sits in the 89-92 mile-per-hour range and sometimes gets higher. His velocity should escape the low 90s when he adds muscle to that very lean frame. There is still plenty of time for this hurler, and he could easily be much higher on this list in a year.
30. LHP Jack O’Loughlin
Stats: 17.1 IP, 2.60 ERA, 22 SO, 7 BB for short-season Connecticut
Previous rank: 29
This lefty was pitching at the highest level of Australian baseball at a very young age, and seems to have a rather high floor for an international signing. O’Loughlin’s fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range, but scouts think that he will consistently get to the low 90s eventually. He spins a curveball that is his best pitch at the moment, and rounds out the arsenal with a split-changeup. The whole batch projects to be roughly average, not bad for a starter. His build is that of a innings-eating starter, already tall and bulky, and he delivers pitches with low-effort mechanics. It may be indicative that we’ve been higher on O’Loughlin than most for years. Then again, he’s already pitching well in the low minors and could receive quite a lot more attention soon.